Simon Pagenaud set the pace in a scorching hot opening practice session for this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series round on the streets of Long Beach.
An ambient temperature in the 90s and track temperatures soaring well north of 130.F combined with a grippy track surface to make for a fast afternoon – Pagenaud’s 1m07.1991s was more than 2.0s quicker than the fastest time in the opening session at the 2021 event.
Alexander Rossi was best of the rest, 0.4021s down on Pagenaud’s time, while Scott McLaughlin came in third-fastest and best of the Chevys with a lap just 0.07s slower than Rossi’s No.27 Andretti Autosport Honda. McLaughlin’s Penske teammate Josef Newgarden was fourth-fastest ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who stood apart from the other frontrunners in setting his best time on his first set of Firestones.
Temperatures are expected to revert to more familiar territory for the rest of the weekend which raises the question of how much learned during the 45 minutes of running will remain relevant. According to 2021 Long Beach winner Colton Herta, who was sixth-fastest in practice this time around, the answer is: not much.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very different. We basically brought the car here that we brought six months ago and it felt nothing like it [did then]. We’ll have to wait and see. If it’s like this tomorrow, we’ll have some work to do.
“The car didn’t feel normal at all. Some of the [track] sealer and how the heat was – it felt really strange. It’s really fast already and it’s really hot, so we’ll see what it’s like tomorrow.”
Herta and Romain Grosjean both took harmless trips into the runoff early in the session, but the walls earned their first scars 20 minutes in when Pato O’Ward slammed his left-rear into the barrier on the outside of Turn 5. His car was cleared under local yellows and, although the damage looked bad enough to keep him behind the pitwall for the rest of the afternoon, Arrow McLaren SP managed to get him out in the closing minutes. He finished the day just ahead of teammate Felix Rosenqvist with the 14th-fastest time.
The next significant drama came 10 minutes later when Scott Dixon spun and stalled at Turn 8. Almost simultaneously, teammate Jimmie Johnson bit off too much kerb at Turn 5 and ended up in the tires.
“That was me being greedy with the kerbs,” Johnson said. “I could see a lot of black on the kerbs where the guys were taking it and I got too much. And when I went over it… all four wheels were in the air.”
That brought out the second red flag of the day, and the third came shortly after the session restarted when Turn 5 struck again — this time snagging Dalton Kellett, whose No.4 Foyt car came to rest rear-first in the tires.
UP NEXT: Practice 2, Saturday, 8:45am PT.